Lincoln-Way East didn’t just step over a stumbling block on Tuesday. The Griffins smashed through it with a sledgehammer.
Austin Royer dealt 19 assists and four aces as East squashed the memories of two consecutive sectional final defeats, topping rival Lincoln-Way North 25-20, 25-9 for the Marist Sectional championship and a trip to state.
“I’ve been playing on varsity the last four years and we could never get past that sectional final,” Royer said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Ryan Vorderer posted seven kills and Josh Phalen had 13 digs for East (37-1), which took 4 of 5 from North (34-5) in avenging last year’s season-ending loss to the 2013 state runner-up.
The Griffins advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 and will face either Plainfield Central or Edwardsville 2 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates.
Lewis-bound Jake Walenga, the reigning SouthtownStar Player of the Year, ended his career at North with seven kills and seven digs. Kenny Christensen added seven kills and Austin Faller had 16 assists and nine digs.
“We did everything in our power to try to prepare our guys to beat the best team in the state,” North coach Matt Lawrence said. “Our guys tried the best they could, but (East) is a worthy team and deserves to go to state.”
North came out fired up and took an 8-3 advantage in the first set behind two blocks and two kills from Christensen. The Phoenix would later lead 17-14 on a kill from Jake Chudzik, but that’s around the time East really started finding its groove.
Aaron Redweik recorded two blocks in a seven-point span and Royer hit Vorderer and Nate Van Dellen (six kills, eight digs) for kills as East closed the set on an 11-3 surge.
“North put a couple huge kills away right of the bat and I told (our guys) it’s the sign of a champion to take their best punch and come right back at them,” East coach Kris Fiore said.
It helps to have Royer leading the counter-attack.
The St. Ambrose recruit scored twice on a pair of dumps for a 4-2 lead and then unloaded seven straight service points, including two aces, as East stunned North by jumping ahead 11-2.
“We were salty about losing to North last year and we finally did it,” Phalen said. “Austin bombed seven straight serves. It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Phalen helped East vacuum in some booming serves and big attacks from North, which catalyzed the Griffins’ transition offense. Redweick had four kills in the middle as did Carson Slager.
“We scouted them very well,” Phalen said. “We knew in crunch time they would go to Walenga or Brad McFarland and we were prepared for that. We’re playing great defense and blocking well right now.”